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"Lifestyle" is a very broad subject, containing many cultural, social, and religious connotations. Here, we are not trying to suggest guidelines or rules from any particular cultural, social, or religious perspective. The suggestions of yoga are universal in nature, and can be effective for all people, regardless of backgrounds.
Imagine athletes going out for a day of endurance or competition, but that they had never done any training. There had never been any prior physical exercise. There was no effort to do relaxing things before their show time. They always ate really unhealthy food, loaded with fat, sugar, and salt, but low in nutrients. They stayed up late at night, with irregular sleeping patterns. Their family and social life was in chaos. They had many unexamined mental and emotional challenges.
Such an athlete might do okay with a few of these areas of life a little out of line, but in total the athlete recognizes the need for balance, particularly as the time of their event approaches.
The same is true for meditators, probably even more so. Common sense makes it self evident that there is a relationship between lifestyle and the ability to relax, peacefully introspect, and become calm, balanced, or centered at the levels of body, breath and mind.
According to yoga psychology there are Four Basic, or Primitive Urges, which are the desires, wants, needs, or necessities for:
These four are sources or fountains: This is not to say that there are not other desires in the human being, but that these four are at the root of many of the others. We can also call these the Four Primitive Fountains, as they are the sources, or fountains, from which many other desires arise.
See these four primitive urges in the
graphic in the article:
Marketing people know about them: Advertising and marketing people are well aware of these realities. Just reflect on what we often see in advertising. We see people eating, relaxing in one way or another, having romantic interactions or facial expressions, and are often focusing on issues which are a threat to us in some way. The product or service being marketed is suggested as a solution for fulfilling one or more of these urges.
The same is also true of the movie industry. Is it not true that many (or most) of the movies deal with some challenge or threat to overcome, usually having a romantic involvement, that is often set in restaurant or a bedroom? Though the themes of the movie may be similar, it is the diversity of possibilities that brings the entertainment, much like life itself.
Regulate them intelligently: To suggest that we regulate these Four Primitive Urges does not mean that somehow we become instantly impervious to the urges. It does not mean renunciation of any of them, or having a boring life. It does, however, mean the intelligent regulation of these inner drives in ways that are healthy and allow us to be able to move forward with our spiritual practices.
Though there may be many other wants, wishes, desires, needs, or necessities arising from these four, the fact that there is a small number (four) at the core can make the situation much more manageable, and less sensitive for us to discuss and learn in non-judgmental ways.
Again, there is a tremendous diversity of ways in which different peoples might regulate these four primitive fountains. However, exploring these four areas helps us to see the whole process of lifestyle management much more clearly. This can be adapted to individual cultural, social, or religious backgrounds.
If we try to address many different aspects of lifestyle management, it can seem a bit overwhelming, somewhat like we might never be qualified to begin yoga meditation. Seeing only four areas to focus on (although they are big areas) can provide a certain simplicity to the process.
The Four Primitive Urges in all people are for food, sleep, sex, and self-preservation. There are two aspects to dealing with these Four Primitive Urges:
As the student both regulates these urges and also observes their influences, it will become much clearer how these urges are effectively “fountains” from which spring specific desires, wants, needs, and expectations.
One increasingly comes to see how these four lead to emotional responses, control ones habitual thinking, and unconsciously direct actions and speech. The source of samskaras, the latent tendencies or impressions buried in the latent unconscious, will become known to the student of yoga meditation.
To better understand
the way in which the Four Primitive Fountains operate, see the article entitled:
These two factors of regulation and self-observation are somewhat like the metaphorical question of “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” In fact, the two continually recycle, one into the other. So there is “chicken—egg—chicken—egg” and so forth. Regulation and observation also recycle as “regulation—observation—regulation—observation.”
Attaining a certain degree of regulation creates an improved environment for self-observation, and that more lucid self-observation brings an increased ability for regulation through clarity of choice and increased determination.
Gradually this beautiful dance between regulation and self-observation leads the student towards the contentment of a trained mind, which is then capable of helping one develop deeper yoga meditation.
As you progress in your practices, please remind yourself of how self-regulation and self-observation go together, like the left and right feet when walking. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you move forward.
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If you have any question about the relationship between food and meditation, just remember some big meals you have had on holidays or other festive occasions.
You may have eaten more food than you should have, and foods which are not quite as healthy as they could be. You will probably recall that many of such foods, as tasty as they are, have more fat, sugar, and spices. Such foods are often processed so much that the nutritional value has been significantly reduced, while chemicals have been added in the factories.
Now, think about how you felt after eating all that food. Did you feel tired? Sleepy? Stuffed? Heavy? Answer honestly how you felt. Did you feel like meditating? What would have happened if you had tried to meditate even if you waited a couple hours after eating?
This is not to suggest that you are not going to “live it up” on occasion, but the point is this:
Exploring what foods to eat can be an extremely complex task. There are hundreds, if not thousands of books, many videos, and lots of health programs. It is not our intent here to replicate all of that work, nor to try to tell you the perfect diet. However, there are two simple principles in yoga relating to food that can be extremely useful to keep in mind. Then, whatever choices you make about food can be made in the context of these two principles.
Nutrition and Cleansing: Food has to do with stuff coming in and stuff going out—the process is as simple as that. Thus, there are two parts:
The body does a great job of cleansing itself, within limits. If we put high quality food in, then the body can easily process it, and pass what is not needed.
If we put larger quantities of lesser quality food into the body, then the body must work much harder to remove that which is not needed. When the body has to work harder to eliminate the higher volume of low quality material, the effect is that the waste is not being removed as quickly, and is then stored in the body. The result is that the body has a higher level of toxicity.
The other factor is the nutrients coming in. If there are insufficient amounts of nutrients coming into the body, then the various systems of the body do not work as well. We do not feel as well physically, mentally, or emotionally. One may even take in large quantities of food, high in calories, but low in nutrients. The effect is that one can literally be starving while still getting lots of calories.
The effect of these factors is that meditation is not as good on a low quality diet, if meditation is even possible at all. With a good diet, meditation can come more naturally.
The two principles of cleansing and nutrition work hand-in-hand, and they do this quite well if we will remain aware of a few simple principles. The function of mind called buddhi (which knows, decides, judges, and discriminates) is cultivated in relation to these two principles cleansing and nutrition.
As you eat, or make food choices, simply be aware of the relationship between the particular food and its nutrient value, and its cleansing potential. Then ask yourself, "Is this food good or bad, or somewhere in the middle? Is it healthy or not healthy? Is it rich in nutrients? Does it pass easily or have other cleansing benefits?"
Even when you choose to have a food that is not so good, you are eating with full awareness. Gradually, you will come to improve your diet, whether this happens naturally, or by use of some outside resources or guidance.
It may be useful to read some of the many new books on diet and nutrition, or attend some classes on how to cook healthy food. Many hatha yoga and yoga meditation teachers, doctors, hospitals, and health food stores know where such classes are offered.
Water: Once again, giving food advice can be an extremely complex matter, while at the same time simple. While you are working on improving food choices, as discussed above, there is one simple practice that is fitting for everybody, and that is to have enough fluid intake. The best way to do this is to drink lot of water.
Recommendations on the amount of water to drink vary, but as a minimum, eight large glasses per day is a good place to start. This means about two quarts or two liters. Even double that amount is a good amount the keep the system cleaned. One rule of thumb is to note the color of your urine. After sleeping, and taking in no fluid, it naturally has coloring. However, if you notice during the day that your urine is clear, it is a good sign of getting enough water.
The best way to take water is to use room temperature water, and just drink it down. If you are not used to this, it might take doing it a few times to be comfortable with it. Once you are accustomed to it, it is quite beneficial.
Vitamins and holes: There are also many opinions about taking vitamin supplements, and while it is not intended here to get into that debate, there is one principle that is worthy of note. That is, you can sometimes have a "hole" in your nutrient intake. There may be even a single important vitamin or mineral that you are not getting in your diet, and you don't even know it.
One approach to deal with this is to take a good multivitamin on a regular basis. Or, you might want to do this for a short period, say 30 days, and notice if you feel any different. If you notice any difference, you may have discovered you have a "hole" in your diet, and can explore what is needed to fill that deficiency in your food intake. Or, you can adjust your vitamin intake to take care of that deficiency, or continue with the multivitamin. Again, the point here is to be aware of the possibility of a "hole" in your nutrient intake, so that you can deal with it.
Having regularity in sleeping patterns is quite important for yoga meditation. It means having both a regular time to sleep and a regular time to arise. Such straightforward regulation of sleep patterns, though seemingly basic, is an extremely important foundation for meditation.
While it is true that one advanced in yoga meditation requires less sleep, this does not come solely from discipline of sleeping little. That the dream cycle of sleep is therapeutic is recognized both by psychologists and yogis. The usefulness of the dream cycle has to do with the processing or playing out of wants, wishes, and desires that are not allowed space in our waking state.
The yogi, on the other hand, becomes more familiar with the contents of his or her mind. These streams of thought patterns are allowed to play out during the witness stance of yoga meditation. Then, when it is time for sleep to come, there is less need for unconscious processing time. The yogi willfully goes to deep sleep, rests at all levels, then arises into the waking state, refreshed, to go on in external activities.
There are typically five dream cycles per night, each of about 90 minutes in length. Generally, the first two are deep sleep, and the later three cycles are of progressively shallower dreaming states. This is the reason that one often recalls more easily those dreams that are just before arising in the morning.
As the yogi begins to be more and more open to, and accepting of the natural stream of thought patterns, the later cycle is needed less. Thus, one may find that four cycles are sufficient, or about six hours of sleep per day. As life becomes even more balanced, and the unconscious is increasingly witnessed and accepted in yoga meditation, the fourth cycle may gradually begin to fall away. Four to five hours of sleep then becomes sufficient. Eventually, an advanced yogi may find that three hours of sleep is sufficient (and even that three hours is done consciously through yoga nidra, yogic sleep).
One may also notice that the quality of sleep improves with the shift to acceptance of thought streams in yoga meditation. One may increasingly find that time is spent resting, but not really sleeping. For example, one may still be lying down for 6-7 hours, but find that a portion of that time is only half-asleep, as streams of images and impressions are witnessed, so as to allow them to lose their strength. This is a part of the process of attaining non-attachment, or vairagya.
Yoga does not mean abstinence from sex, as is sometimes misunderstood. There is a practice called Brahmacharya, which is often translated as celibacy. The word literally translates as "resting in Brahman," or "cultivating the awareness of the Absolute Reality".
The effect of this practice of constant remembrance of the Oneness, Divine, Truth, or God is that the senses are not so easily distracted. Thus, the regulation of the senses is the natural byproduct of the very positive practice of remembrance of Truth. It is definitely not a case of "white-knuckled" restraint of the sexual urge, or of any of the other sensory desires.
There are two paths, the path of renunciation, and the path of worldly life. In one there is complete abstinence from sex, and in the other there is wise regulation of the sex life. Both are valid paths.
We are a diversity of peoples, societies, and cultures, and there are many different ways in which we learn what is proper sexual conduct. It is not our place in this writing to dictate what is and is not proper sexual conduct. It is a matter that each person must decide for himself or herself within the context of his or her own life circumstance.
The issue of sex and sadhana (spiritual practices) is very practical. Regardless of one's background, it should be self evident that a poorly regulated sex life can lead to external problems in life, as well as internal anxieties. A well-balanced, healthy sex life can leave one with peace of mind and emotional stability. That peace of mind and emotional stability, while not directly causing meditation, allows a stability from which meditation can more easily occur.
Self-preservation is the deepest and strongest of the primitive urges. To regulate the primitive urge of self-preservation means you need to feel safe in your personal world. This includes such factors as reasonable levels of family, social, environmental, and financial security and stability.
Theoretically, if you were a highly advanced meditator or a wandering monk, you would realize that none of these factors could disturb the tranquility of your meditation. However, those who live “in the world” must acknowledge these necessities. The key word is having reasonable levels of security and stability. Develop a lifestyle which is one of reasonable security and stability.
There is no amount of external security which can bring the complete contentment which is being sought. That can come only through knowing your deepest Self, where your own Self is the Self of all, where there is no longer an “other” which is perceived to be a threat to self-preservation.
Along the way, the meditator discovers that fears are gradually being seen clearly, and understood as misunderstandings in the unconscious. The fears begin to evaporate as limitations. Then the meditator comes to know that yoga meditation really can be done in virtually any place or circumstance.